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Omnis Studio 2.0

Sunday 14th March, 1999

Omnis studio 2.0 is undoubtedly the cross-platform database development system for larger companies. In its latest Studio incarnation the program delivers a fully object-based cross-platform development environment. It has its own programming language (Omnis Script) and a powerful object addressing system (Omnis Notation) for creating multi-user applications that can interact with a variety of external data sources.

In terms of new features, there are more than enough to keep users of version 1.1 happy. Perhaps the most obvious difference is in the Help system. Help within Omnis Studio itself, and within any applications you write with the program, is implemented using HTML and a helper application such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator.

The switch to HTML has simplified the creation of help files; it’s now a question of creating your help text as a set of HTML pages, storing them in a folder inside the application’s Help folder, and then running the Help Project Manager over them. This performs all the keywording and indexing required, allowing users access to help files from the menu or from within your application.

For deployment purposes, the serialisation procedure has also been simplified. Serialisation data is stored in the omnis.cfg file; instead of serialisation taking place during install, you can now serialise at runtime. If a serialisation number isn’t entered, the program defaults to demo mode, allowing just 150 records in each file and giving a warning when you access SQL databases. There’s also a Serialisation dialog box in the Tools menu. It sounds inconsequential, but this change enables drag copy type end-user installation from a CD - a useful feature which even Microsoft now provides.

As for database functionality, perhaps the most powerful new features are the supplements to the object structure on which Omnis Studio is based. The biggest change is the addition of an External Object class. Omnis Studio 1.1 included the ability to make use of external components such as Java Beans, and ActiveX components, but External Objects are simply an external component that can also contain Omnis methods. To provide this functionality, version 2.0 includes the ability to dynamically create (that is, at runtime) and store objects in an object variable - powerful stuff.

In terms of database access, Omnis Studio is all things to all people. Version 2.0 ships with DAMs (Data Access Managers) for Oracle, Sybase, DB2, Informix, and ODBC-compliant databases for almost all of the supported platforms, the exception being 680x0 Macs, where the DB2 DAM is currently unavailable but expected to ship with version 2.1.

When MacUser reviewed Omnis Studio 1.1 (Reviews, Vol 14 No 3, p44), the main criticisms were of the pricing structure and the spartan quality of the manuals - not the functionality of the software itself. Spartan may seem an odd word to use for a pair of 400-plus page tomes, but Omnis Studio is such a capable and powerful development environment that, for a beginner, the learning curve resembled climbing Everest without oxygen support. However, Omnis has addressed both the pricing and training/documentation issues.

The price for the shrink-wrapped product has been cut by £400 to £899, with all versions of the software shipping in the same box: the development application for the Power Mac and Windows 95/98/NT; the runtime application for Power Mac, 680x0 Mac, and Windows 3.11/95/98/NT; the VCS (Version Control System); and the DAM (Data Access Manager). The cost of deployment has also been revised; there’s now a standard list price of £100 per end-user licence, with a new £1500 ESU (Exclusive Single User) which allows deployment of up to 1000 standalone licences for CD-ROM, shareware, or demo applications.

The company has greatly improved the documentation and training available to beginners. The two large manuals that shipped with Omnis 1.1 have been re-written: Using Omnis Studio covers the various Omnis object classes, and Omnis Programming covers programming techniques and the immensely powerful Omnis notation. The two smaller manuals that shipped with version 1.1, Omnis Studio Cache and Omnis Studio Data Access Manager, have been rolled into these two new manuals.

The bulk of the Omnis Studio Reference has been moved from paper into an online format. Normally, there are problems with online manuals, but the reference nature of the content lends itself to the new HTML-based help. The examples library included in the standard installation provides clear guidelines to creating your own code for controlling GUI elements - tables, lists, tabs and so on - as well as programming elements such as object classes, object inheritance, messaging, SQL queries, tasks, Omnis notation, lists, and so on.

As well as the documentation supplied with the product (and other materials in PDF form on the CD), Omnis provides a QuickStart self-study course for £550, comprising the teaching materials from their standard QuickStart course (£1375).

If you’ve been totting up the bill as we’ve been going along, you might think things have become a little expensive, especially for a beginner. This was one of the main criticisms of version 1.1, and to be fair to Omnis, the company has taken this on board. Omnis has announced a revised partner programme (based on a similar scheme run in the US) and has made it available to MacUser readers.

The programme includes a copy of Omnis Studio 2.0, a year’s worth of upgrades to new versions, the Omnis Studio self-study course, a 30% discount on deployment fees (£70 per user), a free two-day ‘Introduction To Omnis Studio’ training course, and cut-price rates (£145 per day) for more advanced training. The package costs £1500 for a single developer, £2250 for two and £2750 for three, and is available until the end of September 1999.

There are a couple of minor criticisms. Despite the Mac OS look and feel, the documentation shows a definite Windows bias. But given the cross-platform nature of the product, this is probably unavoidable.

However, the workthrough that’s built into the Welcome library assumes you’re using a PC with a two-button mouse - confusing for a first timer who doesn’t know how to use the control key. And it may sound like whining, but for £899 you’d expect a proper workthrough that shows not only how to build databases (which the tutorial does, sort of), but also tells you what you’re doing, and why.

Omnis Studio 2.0 is an immensely powerful development environment, suitable for medium-sized to enterprise-scale projects. It provides cross-platform features and functionality not found in other products. However, there 's a learning curve involved, and it’s certainly not a tool for the database illiterate.


Object-based database development environment for hardcore data jugglers.

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Rating 4.5
Manufacturer Omnis
Pros Powerful development environment ˜ Fully object based ˜ Large selection of GUI elements ˜ Excellent database connectivity
Cons Poor tutorials included with standard product ˜ Moderately expensive for small companies
Price 765
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 15, Issue: 5, p34